Snacks are important for kids! Between-meal munchies provide an opportunity to squeeze in some needed nutrients and help kids focus. Make protein, carbohydrate, calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber target nutrients when choosing lunches and snacks for kids.
Protein comes from legumes (beans, peas and lentils), meats, dairy and meat substitutes such as tofu, peanut butter and nuts. Recommendations for children are as follows:
Nuts are an excellent source of protein. Don’t avoid them because they are higher in calories. Although nuts are a higher calorie snack, they are full of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. They’re also a great source of iron and fiber.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, provide vegetable protein and fiber along with carbohydrate for energy and are naturally low in fat. Beans supply potassium, magnesium and iron. Roast your own chickpeas for something healthy to nibble on using this recipe I found on Pinterest: Roasted Chickpea recipe Twelve Ways.Saffron Road Crunch Chickpeas makes a good packaged version. Edamame is a great choice for a protein food as well and kids love popping these bright green beans from their steamed pods!
A handful of mixed nuts, seeds and dried cranberries with chopped apricots or plums in a snack bag make a healthy take-along snack.
KIND bars are a good packaged choice. They contain dried fruits and nuts. Most bars use honey as a sweetener. Honey contains phenolic antioxidants, compounds that fight oxidative stress.*
Guidelines suggest children ages 2-6 eat at least 2 servings of fruit daily to receive a well-balanced diet. 1 serving is equal to 1 small piece of fruit, about the size of a tennis ball, 16 grapes or 1/4 cup small diced fresh or dried fruit. Older children should be eating 3-4 servings of fruit each day.
Choose fresh fruit over juices which lack fiber and often contain added sugars. Dried fruits contain heart and gut-healthy fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C and folate.
Fruit kabobs are a fun way to get kids to enjoy their fruits and the more variety you provide, the greater variation of important nutrients they will get.
Here’s a delicious recipe:
Marshmallow Cream Fruit Dip1 (8oz) package reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1 (15oz) jar marshmallow creamBlend above ingredients with a whisk or mixer until smooth. Serve immediately or refrigerate covered.
Use low-fat or fat-free vanilla-flavored yogurt for a lighter substitute.
Apple slices with peanut or almond butter combine fresh fruit and protein for a fulfilling refreshment that will stave off hunger until the next meal.
Canned, jarred or fruit cups are perfectly acceptable options, just be sure to only select those packaged in 100% juice.
Dairy products and fortified alternatives ensure your youngster is getting the calcium and vitamin D they need to build strong bones and teeth. The recommendation for servings per day is 2 cups of milk or dairy for ages 1-8 years of age and 3 cups for 9-18 year olds.
Encourage milk or fortified milk alternatives, such as soy milk, low-fat or fat-free yogurt and cheese.** Low-fat string cheese sticks are a staple in my home.
Ice cream actually has 84 mg of calcium, so go ahead and have a small bowl for a special treat and leave the guilt in the scoop.
Carbohydrates should never be avoided. Carbohydrates are used for an immediate source of energy in the body’s natural process. Calorie needs to meet acceptable body weight would be extremely difficult without adding unhealthy amounts of fat if carbohydrates are eliminated. Choose healthy carbs and make half of grains whole.
Be sure a label includes the word “whole” to ensure the grain’s endosperm is intact, the component that provides fiber and blood sugar stability, preventing “bottoming out”.
I found a healthy recipe for homemade granola on Cooking Light’s website:
Be cautious with the pre-made granola bars, as many of them are loaded with added sugars. Protein powders are a common additive and don’t always provide all the essential amino acids you need to build protein like natural foods do.
Good brand choices reviewed by dietitians are RXBARs, KIND bars and LÄRABARs.
Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? 3 cups of popcorn is equal to 1 carbohydrate serving. Instead of pouring on the butter or margarine, sprinkle shredded parmesan cheese over hot popcorn for a savory treat.
For a pre-portioned option, Smartfood and Annie’s brand popcorn are winners.
When teaching your kids about healthy snack choices, remember that fat is not your enemy. Estimated calorie needs range from 900 calories/day for a 1 year old to 1,800 for 14-18 year old girls and 2,200 calories/day for 14-18 year old boys. Fat intake should average out to be around 30% of total calorie intake.
Don’t get to caught up in the numbers. Choose healthy fats like canola and soybean oil when cooking or baking. Olive and avocado oil are good choices for sautéing, roasting and salad dressings. Foods naturally high in healthy fats are avocados, peanut butter, fatty fish, nuts, eggs and flaxseed. Exercise portion control and let high-fat snacks like cakes, cookies and potato chips be treats instead of the daily go-to nosh.
*babies < 1 year old should not eat honey, as it contains bacteria that causes infant botulism
**from the time solid foods are introduced at 6 months until a child turns 1, whole milk should be provided for proper brain development. Once a child turns 2, its okay to introduce 2% milk and you may begin the process of reaching a goal of skim.